Criminality of Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence


Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate – TRANSCEND Media Service

Speech delivered in Berlin, 12th December, 2010

The International League of Human Rights (Germany) awards the Carl-von-Ossietzky Medal to Mordechai Vanunu and campaigns for his freedom to leave Israel and receive his prize in Berlin.

My Dear Friends,

I am happy to be visiting the very beautiful city of Berlin.  I was here in 2009 when I had the joy of attending the opening of the Berlin Centre for Nonkilling.  This gave me great hope that indeed our ‘thinking’ is changing from the myth that force or the threat of force, violence, nuclear weapons, militarism and war, can solve any problems or bring human security.

Today we are becoming increasingly aware that human and environmental security does not come from violence but must be based on the practise of truth and love, and the implementation of human rights and international law.  We are increasingly aware also that killing and threats to kill underlie all other threats to the survival and wellbeing of humanity, and it was with this in mind that the Nobel Peace Laureates’ Charter for a world without violence, in its Article 13, states that, ‘We each have a right not to be killed and a responsibility not to kill others’.

Starting from this fundamental principle, I believe we can each do our part to end the greatest threats to human survival i.e., militarism, nuclear weapons and war, replacing them with international and humanitarian laws.

I am therefore very happy to be returning to Berlin at the invitation of the International League of Human Rights (Germany) to participate in the bestowal of the Carl-von-Ossietzky award to Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistleblower, a man who recognized the dangers of nuclear genocidal weapons and his personal responsibility to do what he could to protect the lives of others against such weapons of mass destruction.    I would like to offer my congratulations to Mordechai Vanunu on being awarded this important award.

Karl-von-Ossietzky was a man of courage who suffered and died in a concentration camp for his principled opposition to the Nazi regime. Mordechai Vanunu suffered for his principled opposition to nuclear weapons when he was convicted and spent 18 years in an Israeli prison (12 of which in solitary) for telling the world that Israel has a nuclear weapons programme.   Twenty-four years later he continues to suffer as he is denied, by Israel, his basic human rights of freedom of speech and to leave Israel, which he wants to do.

It is fitting that Vanunu be awarded this K-V-O medal, as both men shared a passion for human rights and human dignity, being willing to pay the price of suffering for being truth tellers to protect humanity. When the ILHR decided to award the prize to Vanunu they also, together with IALANA (International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms-Germany) and IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War-Germany), launched a campaign asking the Israeli government to allow Vanunu to come to Berlin to accept his prize.   It is shameful that the Israeli government has, yet again, refused to allow Vanunu to leave Israel and continues to break international law by denying Vanunu his freedom.   This behaviour by Israel is not acceptable by the international community.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights codified, in the Article 12, the fundamental freedom to leave any country, including one’s own.  We therefore call upon the Israeli government to uphold its obligations as a member of the UN and the international community, and free Vanunu. We call upon Germany and all other national governments, the UN, the EU Human Rights Commission, and the international community, to take action and insist that the Israeli government behave according to HR and international law, freeing Vanunu immediately.

We, the international community, are not powerless in the face of Israeli’s illegality; we will  continue to campaign until Vanunu is free so he  can come to Berlin to receive his prize which the ILHR will hold for him.

We can also continue to work for what Mordechai Vanunu passionately believes in, a nuclear free Middle East and a world without nuclear weapons.  The whole world knows that Israel has nuclear weapons (this was conceded by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2006 during a visit to Germany) and is the third largest nuclear power in the world.  We therefore call on it to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, open its Dimona nuclear plant to inspection, move to abolish its nuclear weapons and participate in the UN Secretary General’s future conference on a nuclear free Middle East.    By taking such action Israel would give real leadership for peace in the Middle East and help end the danger of nuclear proliferation.

We don’t need to look too far to see the horrors of nuclear weapons and war.  I have just returned from Hiroshima where 65 years ago the nuclear bombing of this city took place.   Here too in Berlin you know the suffering of World War II, when your own city was bombed — both war crimes, since many civilians were killed. It is to the credit of the peoples of Berlin and Hiroshima/Nagasaki and their governments that they learned the lessons of history putting their energies and resources not into militarism but into peacemaking and building up their very beautiful cities, taking care of their peoples’ needs.

Both peoples and countries did not get stuck in the past suffering but went on to build technology and the economy, becoming examples of the great resilience of the human spirit.   For the young German people, it is important that you continue celebrating the moment and look forward to the future and not get stuck in the past or feel responsible for what previous generations did, and which caused so much death and destruction to others.   But I would encourage you to learn from your history and continue working to build peace and reject bombs, bullets and all the techniques of violence as ways of solving human problems. I would invite the young people of Germany to continue, and increase, their efforts to end militarism, nuclear weapons and war, and believe it is possible to do this, because peace is possible.

A new way of living together as a human family is not only possible, it is imperative for our very survival and the survival of our world.  Yet, even as we all dream of a nonkilling, nonviolent world and work towards it, we must be realistic and recognize the reality that we are in  grave danger, facing a highly militarised industrial complex pushing a fearful agenda of war and more sophisticated weapons for land, sea, air and space.   The military mindset will not be easy to transform into one that rejects violence and killing , which has had its days. There is a better way of solving conflicts through dialogue and states’ compliance with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.

The difficulty of our task to change military mindsets can be shown by reading the strategy that NATO adopted in November 2010 in Portugal, signed by the heads of 28 member states of the NATO alliance. Whilst the strategy affirms that the Alliance is firmly committed to the purposes and principles of the United Nations, this NATO strategy goes on to say,

“Deterrence based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities remains a core element of our overall strategy. The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons has to be contemplated are extremely remote. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance and NATO will work to sustain the necessary levels of defence spending so that our armed forces are sufficiently resourced.”

This means that NATO (led by USA) is fully prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons, and indeed tactical nuclear weapons have been fully integrated into the US armed forces and training programmes. Of course it goes without saying that the counter alliance to NATO:  Russia, China and the so called Central Asia Collective Security Organization, have built nuclear weapons into their security policies and strategic planning.   These governments continue to ignore their legal obligations under international law  that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is criminal and therefore every government must move to see that these criminal weapons are dismantled.

I know that the German government has asked the US and NATO to take their nuclear weapons out of Germany, and I hope the people of Germany (and the other European states that have US/NATO nuclear weapons in them) will work to see these weapons removed for a nuclear free Europe soon.  I believe it is time to dismantle NATO (this should have been done when the Warsaw Pact was dismantled) and replace it with a Nonviolent European Common Security Community.  Also establish the same in other world regions and move to establish an overall Global Nonviolent Common Security Community.  Surely in an interdependent and interconnected world in the 2lst Century, it is time for a new start and fresh thinking regarding our human and environment security.

No government has used nuclear weapons after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the threat to use them has often been made. Many governments have built their national security policies on threats of violence and militarism, and since l943 millions have been slaughtered in many countries by both state and nonstate actors in the name of progress and democracy.  Increasingly, governments are using force against unarmed civilians.

The US government has committed acts of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc., and has authorized, armed, equipped and supplied Israel to commit acts of aggression, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people.  However, I believe that Palestine is the key to peace in the Middle East. Israel, by ending the occupation and upholding human rights and democracy for the Palestinian people, can help bring peace to the region both for the sake of the Israeli/Palestinians and everyone in the region.

Of concern to Europe and the international community are the US government’s threats to attack Iran (or allowing Israel to do so) on the pretext that they have a nuclear weapons programme. If indeed they do attack Iran, this would set the whole region on fire.  When President Obama says he wants to see a world without nuclear weapons and, in respect to Iran and its alleged nuclear weapons ambition, that ‘all option are on the table,’ this is clearly a threat to use nuclear weapons and a criminal threat against Iran, as the world court advisory opines.

The Nuremberg Charter of August 8th, 1945, says the threat or use of nuclear weapons is criminal, so officials in all nine nuclear weapons states who maintain and use nuclear deterrence as a threat are committing crimes and breaking international law.

In his book, The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence – Could the US War on Terrorism Go Nuclear? (1), International Law Prof. Boyle says, “In the Advisory Opinion by the International Court of Justice on nuclear weapons the World Court ruled that the threat stands or falls on the same legal grounds as the actual use.  If mass extermination of human beings is a crime, the threat to commit mass extermination is also a crime”.

If any of us threatened to kill another person we would be prosecuted and yet the leaders of nuclear weapons states are holding the threat of nuclear extermination over us all.  Some governments feel it is prestigious being in the Nuclear Weapons Club as if it were a badge of ‘honour’, when in reality it should be a badge of shame and dishonour for any country to have such weapons, not only breaking the Nuremburg Principles but also wasting their peoples’ precious resources necessary for basic needs to food, education, health care, etc.

I believe that we must delegitimize nuclear weapons, change our militarized mindsets of fear and violence, and abolish force in international relations; replacing all this is the alternative for human and environmental security based on peace, sustainable development, human rights and international laws.  Making arms and the use of force illegal and criminalized, dismantling not only nuclear weapons but the entire war machine, will give hope to humanity.

There is much being done, and much we can all do, such as:

Call for the ratification by the United States and Russia of the New START treaty and welcome the consensus Nuclear Disarmament Action Plan that was adopted by the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. We also need to work to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, whose obligations are mutual and concern both nuclear and non-nuclear states that pledge to renounce nuclear weapons and commit themselves to nuclear disarmament.

We can support the initiative of the UN Secretary General to start working on a universal treaty to prohibit the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of nuclear weapons.  We can continue to point out the immorality of the world governments wasting more than $l.5 trillion annually on their military establishments, when just a fraction of this could be spent on meeting the Millennium Development Goals and eliminating poverty worldwide.

The permanent members of the UN Security Council – all nuclear weapons states – are failing to uphold the UN Mandate ‘To save the world from the scourge of war’ and to engage in serious negotiations for the elimination of NW as required by N.P.T.  Because these countries behave as though their power and prestige are built on these weapons, others seek to obtain them.

Large corporations are promoting nuclear energy projects as an alternative to fossil fuels, trying to make nuclear energy appear to be green.  However, the four major problems with nuclear power are yet to be dealt with, i.e.:

(1) the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation,

(2) the failure to find any reasonable solution to storing the nuclear waste that will threaten the environment and humanity for tens of thousands of years,

(3) vulnerability to terrorism, and

(4) propensity to dangerous, catastrophic accidents.

The role of the civil society, including those voices marginalized in the past, of minority communities, youth and women, will help bring about an end to nuclear weapons and war. Increasingly we all use nonviolence and acts of civil resistance/disobedience to bring about peace and disarmament.

Thank you very much.


l) “The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence” (German edition) Prof. Francis Boyle, International Lawyer.  Clarity Press, 2010).


Mairead Maguire won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her actions to end the violence in her native Northern Ireland. In the last 10 years, she has travelled to Israel and Palestine promoting human rights and nonviolent resistance.

Maguire is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and a founding member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Dec 2010.

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One Response to “Criminality of Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence”

  1. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    Mairead Maguire’s thinking echoes the soul-voice of international peace community. This message of peace, harmony and equality of law must draw the heed and attention of those policy makers to whom the nations hailing from developing world(South) may not be regarded as the “equal partners” of the developed world-the North.It is time that the “nuclear apartheid regime” must no more continue in this world.